DALLAS – It may not look like it on the scoreboard, but things went much better this time around.
Despite seeing their losing streak extended to five after falling 4-1 to the San Jose Sharks Saturday night at the American Airlines Center, the Dallas Stars looked much better than they have in a while.
Dallas, after bolting out to a somewhat stunning 11-3-0 start that briefly had them sitting first overall in the entire NHL just 10 days earlier, suddenly hit a rough patch and have been outscored 21-4 over their last five.
The margin is an even-uglier 13-1 over the last three. The defeat drops them to 11-8-0 on the year, leaving them tied with two other teams for the seventh spot in the Western Conference.
But the truth is, their performance Saturday night was markedly better than the previous losses in the skid.
“We’re in a hole, there’s no question about it, and you can’t just jump out of a hole this deep,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “You have to kind of dig your way up and dig your way out and I thought we were moving in that direction. The first period was one of the better periods we’ve played, I think the hits were 19-9 at some point, face-offs were good and we had energy, we had pucks at the net, so that’s what we’re talking about. You don’t always get the results, our PK kind of let us down and that’s what happens when you’re in a rut. There’s signs of improvement there, and there’s more work to be done.”
Despite a strong opening period, the Stars still found themselves trailing after surrendering a power play goal early and the Sharks were able to take advantage of their opportunities to wrest control of the game away.
“It sucks, obviously. We all hate losing in here, we’re all very proud individuals,” said forward Steve Ott, playing just his second game since missing six with a lower body injury. “We want to work as hard as we possibly can and I thought our hard work ethic has been definitely on the up-slope, the last two games anyhow, and the only way we’re going to get out of this funk is by continuing to play that way. Obviously, there was a couple of small breakdowns that end up in the back of your net, but all in all, I thought our work ethic was 100 times better than it has been.”
Special teams probably were the difference in the contest, as Dallas gave up two power play goals while not connecting on any of their own, which has been a common theme lately. Over these past five losses, the Stars have been outscored on special teams by a 6-1 margin.
“We obviously fell short on the penalty kill, two goals, that puts us in the hole every time,” said key penalty killer Vernon Fiddler. “Myself and (linemate Radek) Dvorak, and the rest of the penalty killers, we have to be better and give ourselves a chance to win every night and those things, it just seems like it’s snowballing right now.”
“They snuck in a couple of ones in and it’s not good enough,” Ott said of the PK unit. “You’re going to win in this league by special teams, every team is too tight now. You look at the standings, the Western Conference, it’s that tight throughout mainly because of special teams. You’re winning and dying by special teams.”
Andrew Raycroft got the start in goal for Dallas, his fourth of the season, and looked solid in making 34 saves. Raycroft, who has now lost 10 straight starts dating back to last season, acknowledged how quickly things can change in this game.
“I’ve seen quite a few pro seasons now and it seems to happen every year, a lot of ups and downs and you have to manage them,” said Raycroft, who has started in the second leg of back-to-back games each time he’s made an appearance this season. “It feels like it’s a tall mountain to climb, but the reality is, we have a good period and it turns back the other way and you start feeling good again. It’s just the cycles of the season, you just have to find a way to stop the bleeding ASAP.”
Down 1-0 entering the second period, the Stars fell behind by two just 1:23 in when the Sharks capitalized on a power play for their second PP goal of the night. With Brenden Morrow in the penalty box for hooking, San Jose connected just 28 seconds later to make it 2-0. The puck took a bad bounce off Sheldon Souray’s skate in the right corner, bouncing right to Logan Couture low in the right face-off circle, and Couture slickly chipped a rolling puck over Raycroft’s shoulder.
“That one was just kind of the way things have gone,” said Raycroft. “We had it covered in the corner and it just kind of kicks out and goes to the guy in front. I kind of bit on his fake a bit and dropped my glove. Those kinds of things happen when things aren’t going right. When things are going well, that ends up on one of our sticks and down and we kill 45 seconds. It’s frustrating and we just continue to do the right things and get in the right place and those things don’t happen as much.”
It would have been 3-0 at 3:46, but Stephane Robidas managed to get his stick on Couture’s wide open chance in front with Raycroft down, deflecting the puck just wide of the left post.
The loudest cheer of the night from the 13,711 at the American Airlines Center came at 4:13, when Krys Barch dropped the gloves with San Jose’s Jim Vandermeer and held a decisive advantage in the lengthy bout.
Immediately off the ensuing face-off, another fight broke out, as Eric Nystrom and Jamie McGinn squared off just two seconds later.
San Jose extended their lead to 3-0 just 37 seconds after the fisticuffs as former Star Brad Winchester notched his second of the year when he rifled a high wrist shot from the high slot that beat Raycroft over the glove at 4:52.
Dallas had its best chance to score in the period at 12:05 when Michael Ryder sped into the Sharks zone on a breakaway, but netminder Antti Niemi made a nice glove save on his wrist shot from the slot.
San Jose outshot Dallas 18-7 in the second, taking a three-goal lead into the final period.
It took the Sharks 4:34 to increase the lead to four when McGinn notched his second of the year. After Michal Handzus won a battle in the right corner and emerged with the puck, he slid a pass in front to McGinn, who popped it home into the open side of the net.
The Stars finally got on the board, ending their scoring drought at 194:11, when Ribeiro found the back of the net at 6:22. On the rush into the San Jose zone, Ribeiro received a nifty backhand pass from Loui Eriksson and wired a blazing wrist shot from the top of the left circle over Niemi’s glove and in.
“It was a great feeling to have Ribeiro put one in the net, let’s be honest,” Ott said.
“I think there was a relief - when we scored the goal, I think we did get a little jump for those five minutes after we scored,” said Raycroft. “At least we didn’t get shut out again tonight.”
On a power play minutes later, the Stars almost got another one, as Morrow executed a nifty deflection in front of Ribeiro’s wrist shot from the top of the right circle at 9:15, then Morrow’s rebound chance rolled just wide.
Another prime chance for the Stars came at 12:55 when a strange bounce of the puck found Eriksson alone in the left circle but his one-timer blast whizzed just wide of the right post.
Despite the imminent loss, the Stars stuck up for one another, as Barch initiated a fight with 1:44 left with Ryane Clowe, who minutes earlier had slashed Robidas and declined Robi’s fight request.
All in all, the Stars ended up totaling a season-high 53 penalty minutes, many due to emotions boiling over in the third period.
“I think you can see it, especially probably the second half of that game,” Raycroft said of the club’s frustration level. “The emotions are high and I think we’re just a little rattled. We just have to keep our heads down and work hard and get ourselves out of it that way, with lots of hard work and patience.”
Gulutzan vowed his team would not succumb to frustration the same way again.
“We have to play less frustrated when adversity hits,” said the 40-year-old rookie head coach. “That’s going to change. I’ll tell you this honestly, I’ll use this forum to vent, that I’ll be glad to go back to Saskatchewan if we don’t get out of this, but at the end of the day, we’re going to do it the way we’re going to do it. We’re going to be men, we’re going to have character, we’re going to shut our mouths, and we’re going to play. And if that’s not good enough, then so be it.”
It took the Sharks just 29 seconds to capitalize on their first power play early, as Brent Burns scored his fourth of the season 4:58 into the opening period. After Dallas controlled the play for the opening four-plus minutes, Nicklas Grossman landed in the penalty box for holding at 4:29 and San Jose, owners of the NHL’s fourth-best power play unit coming into the contest, made them pay. Joe Thornton slid a pass from the right side of the crease to the charging Burns in the left face-off circle and Burns drilled the backdoor one-timer into the open side of the net.
“The first one was an individual mistake,” Gulutzan said. “It’s stuff that we went over and it’s an individual mistake. We have to be better at cleaning those things up. I thought there was positive signs with that PK, but it’s that one mistake. And that’s what happens when you’re in these ruts, it’s that one thing that kills you.”
The Stars had several prime chances on their own power play that began just 16 seconds after San Jose went up 1-0, but Niemi made outstanding back-to-back saves on Ryder one-timers from the left circle at 6:23 and 6:43, then denied Eriksson’s point-blank one-timer in front at 7:12.
For just the second time in their last five games, the Stars outshot their opponent in a period, edging San Jose 14-10, but still trailed 1-0 heading into the second period.
Dallas continues its homestand Monday night when the Edmonton Oilers visit (7:30 pm start, FSSW), a game that will be even more important because new owner Tom Gaglardi will be here dropping the ceremonial first puck before the contest. The Oilers, who also darted out of the gates to a quick start, have fallen back a bit, but crushed Chicago Saturday night to improve their record to 10-7-2 on the year, tying Dallas with 22 points.
The Stars just need a W any way they can get it now.
“We need to have the work ethic that I thought we came out with in the first period,” Ott said. “I thought we were the best team in the first period, then back and forth in the second and in the third, I thought maybe was ours as well, but we lost 4-1 and that’s not the outcome we want, but if we continue to work like we did in that first period, we’re going to win 8-out-of-10 games.”
- Ribeiro’s goal was his second of the season and snapped an 11-game goalless drought – his first since Oct. 21. Ribeiro had totaled just one assist in his previous five games.
- Dallas outhit the Sharks by a stunning 53-17 margin, led by Mark Fistric’s 11 bodychecks. Robidas, who led the club in ice time with 22:52, added nine while Ott delivered seven hits.
- Eriksson, Souray and Ryder each had four shots on goal to lead Dallas.
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1 - 0 SJS
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2 - 0 SJS
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